Election scandals: the Dublin Port Tunnel

The Dublin port tunnel cost three times its original estimate and was three years behind schedule when it finally opened last December. The port tunnel was first mooted as far back as 1991 when it was proposed to the Department of the Environment. It was originally one of four options put forward to solve the problem of port traffic in Dublin city centre. When the port tunnel route was announced in 1993 the estimated cost was put at £100 million. It was approved by government in 1999 and already the cost had doubled to £204 million. The final bill will be €715 million says Dublin City Council, although many think it will be closer to €1 billion.
In 2004 the Comptroller and Auditor General reported on the cost of the tunnel which had trebled between 1999 and 2002. The then Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan, attributed the huge increase to construction cost inflation, and the additions of land and property compensation. According to the government in 1999 work on the tunnel was to begin at the end of 2000 and take three and half years. It took six.

Over half of the final €715 million bill is from construction costs which come in at €448 million. Included in part of the final bill is €1.5 million in compensation of property, including the houses that were damaged as a result of the tunnelling. Over €900,000 in compensation has already been paid out.

The port tunnel stretches from Dublin port to the Whitehall/N1 area where it joins the M50. It is 4.5 km long and the journey time is six minutes from the port to the M50. It has a capacity to carry 70,000 vehicles a day.

In addition to the construction overruns, the toll charges have increased over the years. When the government approved the plan in 1999 they said there would be no charge for cars using the tunnel if they were travelling out of the city centre but a £3 charge would be imposed if they were travelling into the city centre. The tolls for cars are now €3 between midnight and 6 am, €12 between 4-9pm and €6 the rest of the time.

The aim of the port tunnel was to reduce the number of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) and cars in the city centre – about 9,000 a day. A strategy has been brought in which bans all HGVs in daytime hours unless they have a permit.

There was widespread opposition to the traffic strategy from hauliers and companies. As of the strategy many trucks would have to travel to a destination in the south of Dublin via the M50 making the journey much longer. For instance trucks travelling to Dun Laoghaire or Sandymount from Dublin port will not be able to go through the east link toll bridge as of February and will instead have to travel to their destinations via the port tunnel and then the M50. The distance from the port to Dun Laoghaire via the East link is 11 km, but it is 50 km via the port tunnel and M50. This extra distance will obviously add delays and cost to the transporting of goods.

Also Dublin port itself is almost full to capacity so in the long term and alternative port will have to be found.

A report done by Baxter Eadie on Irish ports said Dublin will reach capacity by 2014 and perhaps as early as 2007.

As well as all this there are problems with the height of the tunnel. The operating height of the tunnel is 4.65 metres. This prevents the larger trucks that need 5 metres clearance from using it. These are usually large car transporters and extra large container vehicles. The IRHA (Irish Road Haulage Association) estimates that the larger trucks represent about 5 per cent of the total British and Irish fleet. The National Institute for Transport and Logistics says less than 1.7% of HGV's (Heavy Goods Vehicles) accessing Dublin port exceed the operating height. However, the IRHA says it needs to be higher for greater productivity. The larger trucks can carry more goods and, therefore you could have fewer trucks carrying more.

Dublin port accounts for almost 50 per cent turnover of Irish ports.